Texas A&M-Commerce entered Kitty Magee Arena on Tuesday with an 8-1 record, but TWU defeated the Lions 25-17, 25-19, 19-25, 25-18 in the Lone Star Conference opener for both teams.
TWU improved to 6-3 in front of a school-record crowd of 724.
Right-side hitter Josie Santos paced the TWU offense with 13 kills, while outside hitter Mallory Kuechle added 11 kills. Middle blocker Chloe’ Tate and junior outside hitter Jaqueline Santos each added nine kills, with Tate racking up four block assists for the TWU defense to go with Marcela Alves’ five block assists.
TWU coach Shelly Barberee attributed the Pioneers’ strong showing to their difficult early-season schedule.
“We’ve played people in the first two weeks that are at a higher caliber than the teams they’ve played,” Barberee said. “They haven’t played a ranked team yet, and we’ve played numerous and we’ve done well in most all of our matches. They haven’t seen hitters like ours yet or an offense like ours. Every conference win is big, and if we want to host the conference tournament, then we have to win these.”
In the first set, TWU’s offense began clicking while the Lions faltered. A&M-Commerce managed only a .050 hitting percentage, compared with the Pioneers’ .344. TWU grabbed a 13-5 lead thanks to its outside blocking defense, which forced the Lions into several outside misses. Three consecutive points by the Lions brought them within 21-16, but TWU finished off the set with three consecutive kills.
The second set featured eight ties, and TWU used a well-timed six-point push with two kills by Jaqueline Santos on assists from Kimberly Bell to take a 17-11 lead.
The Lions stayed alive by stealing the third set, as the Pioneers came out of a mid-match break with lackluster attention, particularly on the defensive side of their serve-receive. A three-point run got the Pioneers to within 12-11, but the Lions took six of the next eight points to secure the win.
“When you win a volleyball game, it’s who makes less errors,” Barberee said. “We had been forcing them into errors all night, but then we started making a lot of errors, which is typically not our game. I got on them a bit because they were trying so hard to be perfect that they were messing up in the long run.”
TWU responded in the fourth set with a renewed vigor on the defensive end that led to a smoother attack on offense. A miss by the Lions gave TWU an 11-7 lead, prompting a timeout. The Pioneers came together out of the break with a six-point burst, highlighted by three Kuechle kills, to take an 18-8 advantage that they held on to for the win.
“They’re a pretty good team, so we worked hard every day in practice to prepare,” Josie Santos said. “In the third set, we didn’t do very well, but we came back stronger in the fourth set with more concentration and focus. It was a big win for us and we started pretty well. For our first conference game and home game with the crowd helping us, I think we did pretty good.”
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873 and via Twitter at @PatrickHayslip.